Sand Wasps – Do They Sting?

Sand wasps are found all over America, and an encounter with them is not uncommon here. But do they sting? Let’s find out.

With more than 1200 species populating North America and Mexico, the sand wasp is a common wasp identified by its peculiar nesting habit.

As the name suggests, sand wasps are diggers who create nests in the sand and usually keep to themselves in the wild.

But are they dangerous to you? Let us tell you something about how careful you should be around them.

Sand Wasps - Do They Sting

What Are Sand Wasps?

Sand wasps belong to the genus Bembix, wasps that are part of the Crabronisae family. These are solitary wasps that are abundant in North America and grow up to an inch long.

The wasps can be recognized by their black and white color or pale green and yellow, making them similar to bees.

Sand wasps can be found in a number of places – urban areas, forests, and woodlands.

Unlike yellow jackets and paper wasps, they are not social wasps and can usually be found making their nests alone, even though the nests might be close to each other.

These wasps like to hunt large flies such as horseflies, deer flies, and tachinids and carry them to their nests to lay their eggs and feed their sand wasp larvae.

As the larva grows, they keep adding more and more flies for it until it is ready to pupate. 

Do They Sting?

Sand wasps are capable of delivering extremely painful stings, but they are not very aggressive in nature.

In most cases, sand wasps will only attack humans if they feel their nest is threatened.

These wasps have a powerful sting that they use to paralyze their prey, making it easier to drag the prey to their nest. Common house flies have been known as their prey of preference.

Sand Wasps - Do They Sting

Are They Dangerous?

The simple answer to this question is no! Sand wasps are solitary insects that nest in sandy soils and collect their own food.

They do not have hives or colonies, and the female does the nesting work alone, where they lays eggs.

Sand wasps do not have defensive behavior, and they will do their best to avoid any disturbance by working around it.

If you find them in a park or your house, usually they are trying to get out of the way. The wasps can be dangerous in large numbers, especially when children are playing around in the sand.

Are They Aggressive?

Sand wasps are timid insects who like to keep to themselves. Most of the time, the stings are accidental, and these guys don’t usually mean any harm.

They can become aggressive if they feel their nests are threatened if you step on them barefoot or if you dig up their nests in loose soil or sand.

What To Do If A Sand Wasp Stings You?

If you are unfortunately stung by one of the most docile wasps out there, you should know to look out for the signs.

A normal reaction to a sand wasp sting will be similar to that of a common wasp. Look out for redness, swelling, and pain and how long it lasts.

For allergic reactions, seek out medical attention immediately.

Sand Wasp Sting Reaction

Different people have different reactions to a sand wasp sting or any insect sting, for that matter. These reactions can include swelling and normal or allergic reactions.

Here are some things you should do as preventive measures:

Normal wasp stings include moderate to the extreme pain, redness, and swelling around the area. It will last for a few hours and resolve on its own after using some kind of antidote.

Local stings have a more elaborate reaction, with swelling extending more than 4 inches. The pain and irritation can last more than five to ten days.

For people who have an allergic reaction to an insect sting, it can be very bad news. They should get immediate medical attention to avoid a fatal physical reaction.

Sand Wasps - Do They Sting

Sand Wasp Sting Treatment

Here are some effective home remedies that you can use to treat sand wasp stings:

  • Use an ice pack on the sting site for 20 minutes to release the swelling and pain.
  • Cutting an onion in half and placing the base on the sting site works to reduce the pain.
  • To neutralize the sting venom, any kind of basic substance like baking soda can prove effective. A thick paste of baking soda is recommended to be applied as a paste.
  • You can put vinegar on the sting, applying it with a cotton ball. The acidity of the vinegar helps to reduce the venom and helps with the swelling.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a sand wasp do to you?

Sand wasps are usually harmless to humans. They prefer to avoid humans and will not attack if not provoked.
These insects only attack humans if they feel themselves or their nests threatened. They can deliver a rather painful sting that might leave redness and swelling.

Do sand wasps fly?

Yes, sand wasps can fly. They have four wings and can fly about with a dizzying sound, mostly to attract females.
Since they are not social insects, they fly around from one place to another to find their food and build individual nests.

What kind of wasps live in the sand?

Wasps that live in the sand are a type of digger wasp. They dig up the soil to create their nests.
Certain thread-waisted wasps belonging to the Sphecidae family are digger wasps in character. These wasps dig their nests in loose and sandy soil with their pincer-like legs.

How deep do sand wasps burrow?

Sand wasps use their mandibles and legs to burrow their nests in the ground. They use these physical features to bite away chunks of the soil to whisk dirt and soil away.
These are solitary wasps that burrow on the ground by themselves to make a place to lay eggs and hide their prey.

Wrap Up

So, to sum up, our discussion, sand wasps are not a true threat to you. All you have to do is look out for them, and these wasps will not bother you with an unnecessary sting.

Getting out of a sand wasps way can save you a rather painful sting. Thank you for reading, and try not to dig around in the sand!

Reader Emails

Read all about our reader’s encounters with sand wasps over the years in the emails below. We also have some great pics of these insects for you.

Letter 1 – Sand Wasp Aggregation

 

blue jackets My friend took this picture of some wasps in her yard. I am familiar with yellow and black, but blue and black? Together. Saw your picture of the Sand Wasp, but these appear to be quite social. We live in the desert southwest part of Washington state. Marilyn Richland, WA Hi Marilyn, We don’t want to make any attempts at an exact identification here until we consult Eric Eaton, but we believe this is an example of some species of Sand Wasp in the Subfamily Bembicinae. Update (08/21/2008) From Eric Eaton Hi, again: Your ID is correct, and I can add that the genus is Steniolia. In that part of the country, it is either Steniolia elegans or Steniolia scolopacea albicantia. Both genders are present in this “sleeping cluster.” Great documentation of this phenomenon. Would love to have the image (more if there are some more) over at Buggide. One of our contributors is writing a book on insect signs and phenomena, and this would make a great addition. Eric Update: (08/21/2008) blue jackets Hi My friend sent you the picture I took, and I’ve gone to the bugguide webpage, but sending an email is easier than registering, logging in, and then figuring out where I need to post my pictures. I actually was given the site whatsthatbug.com by a co-worker, but since our local extension office was also looking at them, I was waiting on them. Nah, I’ll try registering, and sending the pictures there, too. Nonetheless, the couple I have that are decent are attached. There are only a few left, and as the mornings get cooler, the few left have white or light green eyes in the morning. We had a lot more before the praying mantis found a big clump last week. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get a picture this morning. I do have a couple other pictures — one my neighbor took, and one each of a yellow and a blue wasp, after putting them in the freezer overnight (on the recommendation of the extension office). I took the bodies to our extension office. We live in the mid-columbia area of Washington State, which is a south-eastern part of the state. It is very arid, mostly grass and sagebrush, and a fairly low altitude. Our yard has taller grass, but we are still trying to keep it somewhat native. You’re right that these are sleeping clusters. They would clump together in the evening, and fly off in the morning after it got warm. They are very torpid in the evening and early morning. Karen

Letter 2 – Sand Wasp on Mt Washington

 

This pretty Sand Wasp in the genus Bembix and several of its relatives have been visiting the daisies in our vegetable garden. We allow the daisies and cosmos to reseed each year as the native pollinators like Wasps, Bees and Flies go nuts over the blossoms during the summer and help to pollinate our squash and tomatoes as well. Lesser Goldfinches come for the seeds as well. We are not sure where these Sand Wasps are nesting, but it must be close.

Letter 3 – Sand Wasp with Stink Bug prey

 

Is this a cicada killer? Wed, Oct 15, 2008 at 11:03 AM My son Sam, 10, took these cool pictures in August of what we thought might be a cicada killer burying it’s prey. It seems to have many things in common with a cicada killer except that its prey is not a cicada and its legs are not orange. What else could it be? Thanks for a great site! Jim and Sam Schwartz Prairie, 35 miles west of Chicago
Sand Wasp with Stink Bug prey
Sand Wasp with Stink Bug prey
Hi Jim and Sam, We already have numerous images of Cicada Killers and prey on our site. Your photo has us much more excited. This is a species of Sand Wasp, most probably in the genus Bicyrtes. According to BugGuide, the female wasp “Provision nests with hemiptera, especially stinkbugs ( Pentatomidae ), also leaf-footed bugs ( Coreidae ), and sometimes assassin bugs ( Reduviidae ). The nest is “mass-provisioned”, i.e., stocked just once, then closed ” Your specimen appears to have a Stink Bug. We are going to contact Eric Eaton to see if he agrees that this is Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus, and since BugGuide doesn’t have any images of the predator and prey together, we suspect he may request that you post this to BugGuide as well.
Sand Wasp with Stink Bug prey
Sand Wasp with Stink Bug prey
Thanks for your wonderful note!  You and Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus really got the house hopping this morning.  It would be a pleasure to send these pictures on.  Sammy, who just turned 11, spent the summer taking pictures with an old digital camera of mine and captured some of the coolest insect pictures I have ever seen anywhere.  I have a couple of others that we’re trying to identify ourselves before asking for help.  Thanks so much for your information and the wonderful resource you provide.  I’ve attached a couple more shots in the series.  Hope they help. Jimmy

Letter 4 – Spiny Tachina Fly and Sand Wasp (we think)

 

Fake Bumblebee? October 19, 2009 On Saturday (October 17th) our local Audubon club came across a rabbitbrush in full bloom. There were a lot of bugs visiting the bush, including what we first assumed were lots of bumble bees. As we got closer it became obvious they weren’t bumblebees, and we were undecided if they were actually bees or flies. Pam Wheeler Saint George, Utah
Spiny Tachina Fly
Spiny Tachina Fly
Hi Pam, Your fake bumblebee is actually a Tachinid Fly.  Tachinid Flies are parasitic on other insects, and according to BugGuide, caterpillars are a common host.  We are not certain of the exact species as there are many similar looking possibilities, including Adejeania vexatrix and Hystricia abrupta,  though our top choice is the Spiny Tachina Fly, Paradejeania rutilioides.  According to BugGuide,  Spiny Tachina Fly:  “Adults take nectar, especially from late blooming Asteraceae. Larval host: the arctiid moth Hemihyalea edwardsii (at least in part of its range …)”  The other insect in the one photo appears to be a Sand Wasp, probably in the subtribe Bembicina, though exact species identification may be impossible.
Sand Wasp and Spiny Tachina Fly
Sand Wasp and Spiny Tachina Fly
Daniel, Thank you!  I think our Audubon group will be very interested to learn what they were- even though we are mostly bird nerds 🙂 Thanks! Pam

Letter 5 – What's Buzzing the Baccharis? Sand Wasp

 

Sand Wasp on the Baccharis Location:  Elyria Canyon Park, Mount Washington, Los Angeles, CA October 14, 2012 Though we posted our photos of a Scarab Hunter Wasp first, we actually photographed this Sand Wasp in the genus Bembix before we photographed the Scarab Hunter Wasps.  We only got one photo before the larger Scarab Hunter Wasp flew much closer and landed.  Then after photographing the male Scarab Hunter Wasp, we got a better image of this Sand Wasp.  According to BugGuide:  “Females provision their nest with flies which the larvae feed on (a single developing larva may eat more than twenty flies)” which would make them a desirable species to have in the garden to help control fly populations.
Sand Wasp

Letter 6 – Sand Wasps visit Mount Washington Garden

 

Annual Sand Wasp visit to What’s That Bug? office garden June 22, 2013 Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Sand Wasp
Sand Wasp
So, last Saturday a Western Tiger Swallowtail was cruising around the garden and we have tried unsuccessfully for years to get a decent photo of this nearly daily summer visitor.  Seems they fly around, but rarely land.  Well, the Western Tiger Swallowtail was nectaring from the Rudbeckia daisies, but by the time we returned with the camera, it had flown off.  We contented ourselves with photographing these lovely Sand Wasps in the genus Bembix.  Any wasp that preys upon flies is fine in our book.  According to BugGuide:  “Females provision their nest with flies which the larvae feed on (a single developing larva may eat more than twenty flies)” and “Provisioning is progressive. The females provide a greater number of prey over subsequent days during larval growth. Adults are excellent diggers and can disappear below the surface of loose sand within seconds.”
Sand Wasp
Sand Wasp

Letter 7 – Sand Wasp

 

Subject: Wasp sp.? Location: Sequoia NP, California November 11, 2013 12:40 pm I took this photo, in Sequoia NP, California, completely by accident! I was trying to photograph the Butterfly! Does anyone know which species of Wasp it is? Signature: GaryT
Sand Wasp
Sand Wasp
Hi GaryT, This appears to be a Sand Wasp in the tribe Bembicini, but we are uncertain of the species.  It appears to us to resemble members of the genus Steniolia that are pictured on BugGuide. Thank you very much for your really quick response. This at least gives me a starting point to look a bit deeper. Thanks again Let us know if you get a more specific identification and we can update the posting.

Letter 8 – Horse Guard Wasp, we believe

 

Subject: Bee or Fly? Location: Swansboro, NC May 21, 2017 3:56 pm Is it a bee or a fly? I thought maybe a hoverfly? I’m at a loss. My friend took the picture in her yard. Signature: Miss Sheila
Horse Guard Wasp, we believe
Dear Miss Sheila, This critter has four wings, so it is definitely NOT a fly.  We believe it is a Sand Wasp as the abdominal markings remind us a bit of a Cicada Killer.  The closest match we could find is a Horse Guard Wasp, Stictia carolina, but as you can see by comparing your image to this BugGuide image, that is not exact.  We will contact Eric Eaton for assistance.  Based on this BugGuide image, we now believe the Horse Guard Wasp might be correct, but the abdominal markings seem to vary.  Eric Eaton is quoted on BugGuide as stating:  “a really big sand wasp (just behind the cicada killer). They get their name by hanging out around equines and pouncing on tabanids which they paralyze and stuff into their burrows for their offspring.”  Also according to BugGuide:  “‘The horse-guard (Monedula carolina Drury), a predaceous wasp, is among the more important checks on the horsefly. These wasps lay their eggs in burrows and watch over them until they hatch. As soon as larvae appear, the wasps supply them with food, which consists of horsefly adults. The wasp frequents pastures where they pick the flies off the molested horses and cattle and carry them to their nests.’ — Bernard Segal, Synopsis of the Tabanidæ of New York, Their Biology and Taxonomy: I. The Genus Chrysops Meigen, Journal of the New York Entomological Society 44(1):51-78 (1936).”

Letter 9 – Sand Wasps

 

Subject:  Fly Wasp thing Geographic location of the bug:  Central Coast California Date: 07/19/2018 Time: 09:56 AM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  Help ID please How you want your letter signed:  Rebecca
Sand Wasp
Dear Rebecca, Our editorial staff is very fond of these Sand Wasps in the genus Bembix because in addition to being very pretty, according to BugGuide:  “Females provision their nest with flies which the larvae feed on (a single developing larva may eat more than twenty flies)” and “Provisioning is progressive. The females provide a greater number of prey over subsequent days during larval growth. Adults are excellent diggers and can disappear below the surface of loose sand within seconds.”  They are important predators that help reduce the numbers of troublesome flies that are attracted to sandy locations including beaches and campsites.
Sand Wasp

Letter 10 – Sand Wasp: Stizus brevipennis on Goldenrod

 

Subject:  Which wasp is this? Geographic location of the bug:  SW Missouri Date: 09/23/2021 Time: 07:18 AM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  I noticed this wasp in some goldenrod this past afternoon.  I did not recognize it. Can you help identify it, please? How you want your letter signed:  Dave
Sand Wasp: Stizus brevipennis
Dear Dave, At first we mistook this for an Eastern Cicada Killer, but the white markings on the abdomen did not seem right.  Upon researching the Eastern Cicada Killer on the Missouri Department of Conservation site, we realized this was a similar looking Sand Wasp, Stizus brevipennis.  According to BugGuide which has a visual comparison between the two species:  “This species looks superficially quite like Sphecius speciosus (the eastern cicada-killer wasp), but the abdominal banding is much less ‘ornate’. These markings lack a hooked structure and are overall broader and smoother. The scutellum and postscutellum are also marked in yellow, unlike in S. speciosus.”  This is a new species for our humble website and for that we are grateful to you, however, considering how similar these two species look and considering the large number of Eastern Cicada Killer postings on our site, we suspect that one or more might actually be misidentified Stizus brevipennis.  Also, your individual is nectaring on goldenrod, a very important plant to many species of insects, and we are tagging it as Goldenrod Meadow as well.

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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